What Is Emotional Intelligence?

When we hear the word intelligence, we tend to think of it in terms of cognitive intelligence. For so long, many of us have believed that our IQ is the ultimate measure of how intelligent we are. While that may be true for “book smarts,” what about our EQ? Some psychologists believe that our EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is more important than our IQ to our overall success in life because it encompasses a fuller range of human intelligence. 

Emotional intelligence is a concept that explains one’s capacity to be aware of, control and express their emotions, and recognize, empathize, and respond to others’ emotions.  

Suppose you know someone who easily becomes defensive, stubborn, or carries grudges because they do not take feedback or constructive criticism well. In that case, that person likely has low emotional intelligence. On the other hand, someone who is emotionally resilient and can admit to and learn from mistakes is said to have high emotional intelligence. Of course, there are many more traits that can indicate emotional intelligence, such as: 

  • Excellent problem-solving skills 
  • Excellent listening skills 
  • Being able to bounce back from adversity and challenges 
  • Being able to set boundaries and say “no” 
  • An ability to share feelings  
  • Unafraid to be vulnerable 
  • Unafraid to admit mistakes 
  • Being able to get along with others in different situations 
  • Having empathy 
  • Not being judgmental  

How can I build my emotional intelligence?

Some people with emotional intelligence are just born with it, but for others, it can be improved with practice. There are five components of emotional intelligence, and if you wanted to focus on developing your EQ, these are the elements you would work on: 


When you have self-awareness, you are conscious of your feelings and emotions. You know how they affect yourself and others, so you are more equipped not to let your emotions control you.  

How to practice: Pay attention to your emotional triggers and recognize an emotional reaction as soon as it happens. Analyze this reaction – note if it manifests physically, such as an increased heart rate or muscle tension, and recall the emotional trigger that caused it. Part of being self-aware means coming to terms with your weaknesses as well as your strengths. In the end, it will lead you to more self-confidence too because you are more aware of your abilities. Journaling or daily self-reflection time can be effective strategies in increasing overall self-awareness.  


An ability to self-regulate means recognizing your emotional impulses and not making impulsive decisions. A self-regulated person is able to separate their emotions from their actions in a given situation. 

How to practice: Before you act on something, pause and think about the potential consequences. If a decision is driven by impulse, it means there was no forethought, and it was acted on out of emotion instead. Take a moment to notice the emotions leading up to an impulsive thought or decision. Your self-awareness practice will help with this, but you can also practice meditation or breathing exercises to deepen your awareness.    


Motivation is the element of emotional intelligence that represents your level of productivity and drive. It means considering the bigger picture in terms of your goals and actions.  

How to practice: Create concrete goals based on your desired outcomes, thinking both in terms of short-term and long-term goals. Commit to your goals the best you can. You may encounter some negative emotions like defeat or hopelessness but use those situations as learning experiences and try to improve. Remember to look for the positives and small successes and remind yourself that your efforts will contribute to long-term success. Monitor your progress regularly in regard to your goals to keep that motivation going, even when faced with adversity. 


Having empathy means being able to listen and understand the needs of others. It also means being able to empathize with your own situations. This capacity to genuinely relate typically makes you slow to judge others and show more compassion. 

How to practice: The next time you find yourself in disagreement with someone, try to put your opinions aside for the moment so you can see things from that person’s perspective. Practicing this regularly can open up your mind and help you understand that you don’t always have to be right or have it your way. Be more intentional in trying to find the “gray area” in a situation, rather than looking at a situation through the lens of black and white thinking. This can often be helpful in being able to figuratively put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  

Social Skills 

Social skills enable you to work well in teams and as a leader because you have strong relationship management and communication skills. You are strong in reading and responding to the social cues of others, as well as expressing your own needs and wants within a relationship.  

How to practice: This topic is relatively broad and can encompass many practices and qualities. Still, one of the best things you can do is listen before you speak. If you think you have low emotional intelligence, this may sound easier than it is, but be patient with yourself. Think about how someone must feel when you interrupt or dismiss them, and practice being mindful of when that happens. Take time to notice the non-verbal cues of the person you are communicating with, such as their body movements, posture, and facial expressions.  

Why is emotional intelligence important? 

Being low in emotional intelligence can impact many areas of your personal, interpersonal, and professional life. You need a certain level of emotional skills to develop meaningful connections and relationships, which is essential to your overall wellness. If you continually act on impulse and fail to manage your emotions, you lose some level of control over your future too. You are also more likely to get into arguments if you have lower emotional intelligence skills. This is likely due to being more demanding than patient in an interaction or reverting to passive-aggressive communication rather than communicating assertively and effectively. 

Emotional intelligence plays a critical role in our everyday lives, and you may already be making connections as to how it shows up for you, particularly in your career. It is so essential to build your emotional intelligence because if you are resistant to change, you won’t be able to work well with others and help solve problems in ways that work for everyone. If you cannot accept feedback or criticism, you will be more susceptible to anger, which can lead to acting on impulse. If you continue to make poor impulsive decisions that impact your work performance, it can lead to higher levels of stress. If you are unable to manage emotions like stress effectively, your emotions will continue to negatively impact your life and the lives of those around you.

In Conclusion: 

When it comes to your emotions and emotional intelligence, our patterns are engrained. One negative thought, behavior, or action leads to or fuels another, creating a vicious cycle that we often do not recognize until we set intention to do so. Once you can begin to understand and accept your own emotional and behavioral patterns, as well as the patterns of others, you will lead a more fulfilling and happier life.  Building emotional intelligence is not just about looking at the big picture – it is the big picture.  

A big part of improving your emotional intelligence is by increasing your awareness. Therapy is an incredible method of increasing your self-awareness and making life changes that will result in a higher emotional intelligence. If you’re in Illinois and looking to explore therapy as a method of increasing your emotional intelligence, we have over 30 therapists in Champaign IL, as well as Urbana, Tuscola, Charleston, Mattoon, and we offer Teletherapy in Illinois. Our client care team is available to help get you set up and answer any questions. 

About the Contributor

Mandy Paysse

Proofed and Verified by: Erica Aina, LCSW

Erica is the Clinical Supervisor and one of many therapists at Elliott Counseling Group. As the Clinical Supervisor she supports clinical growth, oversees protocols, and provides mentorship, monitoring, support, and supervision to therapists. As a therapist, she specializes in trauma work, depression, children/teen issues, and crisis management.


We offer medication management, therapy, and counseling services in Champaign, Urbana, Mattoon, and throughout Illinois with Telehealth. There are no long wait lists and we are accepting new clients. We would love to see if we fit your needs well. Contact our client care team to get started.